GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Unlike some coaches, Alain Vigneault simmers in public before reaching a full boil, making his point, then lowering the temperature.
But with one-third of the season by the boards, the Rangers coach is feeling the pressure of a lukewarm 14-14 record and Tuesday challenged his top players and leadership group to play with consistent fire before he resorts to cutting ice time and benchings.
"I feel we're all being tested right now," Vigneault said after practice, "the coaches and that group . . . If we are going to get some traction and get past that .500 level, we need our top players to consistently play like top players. Not a period in, a period out. Not a game in, a game out. We need that core group, the leaders of this group, to perform accordingly. We have not done that. Just look at our lineup, look at our core group and look at our key guys and there's the answer."
Of the group, only stellar defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who has points in five of the last six games, and Rick Nash, who is 4-2-6 in eight games since returning from a concussion, might be exempt from criticism. Captain Ryan Callahan has scored once in nine games; Marc Staal (2-1-3, minus-7) has struggled to regain his form since his eye injury last season, and the other veteran wearing an "A", Brad Richards, who started the season producing at a terrific pace, has one goal in 11 games. Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist haven't been stringing any streaks together, either.
"Hank is getting more than a decent share of games to find his rhythm," Vigneault said of Lundqvist, who is 8-11-0 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. "Him, just like our other top guys, they're getting the ice time that players need to find a groove, to find the timing, to find the execution. Those guys need to put it together consistently."
As for playing less or sitting them out, Vigneault, who arrived from Vancouver last summer, said: "I'm not at that point yet. I'm hoping that with the experience that the players I'm talking about have, the sense of accountability and the sense of the responsibility that they should have, I won't need to get to that."
Notes & quotes: Lundqvist is expected to start in Buffalo on Thursday night, his first action since the 3-2 loss in Boston on Friday . . . Based on practice lines, Benoit Pouliot could be a healthy scratch against the Sabres for the first time this season. Taylor Pyatt skated in his spot with Carl Hagelin and Derick Brassard, and John Moore wasn't in the top three defense pairs.